While churches should be (according to the Bible) places of love, joy, and peace, they often are anything but. Christians may love Jesus, but they don’t always love each other. A good example of this is what is currently going on at Mount Calvary Baptist Church in Mansfield, Ohio.
Twenty-two members of Mount Calvary Baptist Church were dismissed as members of their congregation, most of them for attending an “unsanctioned” prayer meeting, expelled church members say.
“We were summarily locked out and prohibited from coming onto the property,” said Yolanda Allen, who with her husband Peter was one of the first two members dismissed. “Some members have been told not even to call the church.”
“Members of our church have been disenfranchised from their due process,” said John Bessick, another dismissed member, who had been serving as an associate pastor.
At least 10 protesters carrying signs lined the right of way just off church property along North Main Street and Surrey Road during a May 25 event to celebrate the Rev. Derek Williams’ two-year anniversary as pastor.
Picketers returned twice on Sunday, as celebration events continued at the church at 343 N. Main St.
Protesters said at least 22 church members, in a congregation estimated as about 170 (including children), have been expelled.
Some kicked out of the congregation say they had been members for more than five decades.
Those who say they were forced out include former NAACP President Betty Palmer-Harris, former Mansfield codes and permits manager Linda Price, and Allen, who served on the city park board
Picketers said the chain of events began after Allen, who had been appointed by Williams to chair the church finance committee, raised questions about spending.
In August 2016, she said she grew concerned that some budget line items, including those controlled by the pastor, were over budget. She thought a meeting was needed to discuss how to bring overall spending into line.
“He (the pastor) did not think I should question his expenditures,” Allen said. “I said ‘It’s just a meeting.’ ”
Allen said Williams, hired at the Mansfield church in 2015 after serving as a minister in Milwaukee, told her she would not continue as committee chair in 2017.
Allen said she and her husband, a church trustee until January, were called in Feb. 14 to a meeting of most of the church’s joint board to respond to a half-dozen charges —including slander and spreading discord — then informed their names would be taken off the membership rolls.
Joint board members at the meeting included the pastor and two other ministers, three deacons, two trustees and a recording secretary.
Under Mount Calvary bylaws, Allen said “a recommendation might come from the board, but it should go to the church body to be decided.”
Church members taken aback by the Allens’ dismissal scheduled a prayer meeting inside the church around Feb. 18, then held a second prayer meeting in the parking lot the next week.
Many of those who attended the initial prayer meeting received letters dismissing them as members as well, picketers said.
Church members who were expelled included three people present at the Feb. 14 joint board meeting, associate pastor Bessick, Deacon Robert Thompson, and Price, who had served as recording secretary.
Williams said Tuesday the allegation that the situation initially stemmed from questions raised about spending were “totally untrue.”
“That’s false. They were not dismissed because of any finance person asking questions,” he said.
“To fabricate a story like that is unbecoming a Christian,” he said. “It’s a sad commentary that the individuals would use the News Journal (like that). Whatever they told you is not the truth, and we have documented the truth.
“The church and the membership and the pastor are going on in the name of the Lord,” focusing strictly on church business, he added.
Williams said he had no other comment at that point. When the News Journal attempted to reach the pastor Wednesday, he left word he was too busy to discuss the matter.
The letters in mid-April informing nearly two dozen individuals they were dismissed from membership were signed by Mount Calvary Deacon Robert D. Chapmon and interim trustee board chairwoman Denise Windham-Brown as leaders of the joint board.
“You are no longer welcome at any of our services or functions or entering on the property of Mount Calvary Baptist Church at 343 N. Main St., Mansfield, Ohio 44901 as of the date of this letter,” one dismissal letter said.
“Please do not contact Mount Calvary Baptist Church by phone or email,” the letter concluded.
Allen, 70, said she has been a church member since she was 12. She said they felt slightly uncomfortable when the new pastor appointed her finance committee chairman in 2015. Under church bylaws “a trustee should have been chosen,” she said.
Allen said she admits to one of the six allegations brought against her, saying she had addressed Williams as “Brother” instead of “Pastor.” But she took issue with the other charges, and said no testimony was presented on those charges, and she was not given an opportunity to have them fully heard.
Price said after the Allens were expelled, a group of 18 people “got together to pray on the situation.”
“The pastor said that it (that meeting) was not sanctioned by him, and if anyone was attending a prayer meeting (under those conditions) they would be set down or dismissed. Then the letters started going out,” she said.
Former deacon Robert Thompson, 80, said he’d been a Mount Calvary member for 72 years at the time he was dismissed. “We have remained silent, up till now,” he said.
“The insults, the humiliation and the beat-down,” Thompson said, adding long-time members were “exhausted” by recent events. “Where is the love? I can’t accept a pastor, under those conditions.”
Both sides have said they may work with attorneys concerning their options.
Picketers said when they returned on Sunday, they found horse manure in the right of way where they had been walking Friday night. It was unknown how the manure got there, they said.
Part of me wants to laugh hysterically, but I do feel for the people who have spent their lives as members of Mount Calvary, only to be unceremoniously kicked out of the church because of disagreements with their pastor. Stories such as this one remind us that Christians are just like the unwashed, uncircumcised Philistines of the world. All of us are capable of similar behavior if provoked or we feel our space is being threatened. I am an easy-going guy who tries to get along with others. However, threaten or attack my wife, children, or — the gods forbid — my precious, wonderful grandchildren, and I will most likely turn into bad-ass Bruce who might do bodily harm to you. What’s going on at Mount Calvary is akin to threatening someone’s family. Fuck the fruit of the Spirit and all that lovey-dovey stuff. The church’s pastor and board are trying to take away the excommunicated church members’ baby. This conflict will likely not end well. Perhaps it is time to consider doing what Solomon suggested to two women fighting over who was the real mother of a baby. Cut the baby in two, said Solomon. Perhaps love and peace will prevail, but more often than not, once lawyers get involved in the conflict, separation usually follows.